In another chapter of its fabled history, Popejoy Hall at the University of New Mexico recently implemented a comprehensive upgrade to its sound reinforcement system, which now boasts JBL VERTEC® DP Series line arrays and VP Series powered monitors.
Located on the main campus of the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, Popejoy Hall opened in 1966 and is home to both the Popejoy Presents concert series and the New Mexico Symphony Orchestra. It also hosts University of New Mexico music department concerts, as well as regional and local events promoted by others. In a typical year, there are as many as 170 performances held from September through June and the number of total use days typically averages over 230. On May 1, 2009, a new system began serving those events.
The new sound system complements Popejoy Hall's earlier major renovation which included a new lighting system, a fully renovated fly system, a new orchestra shell and improved room acoustics and aesthetics. The updated interior design features a variable acoustic drapery system reflecting the needs of the varied programming of the venue. Budget limitations in 1996 dictated that the updated audio system be primarily suited for voice and music playback. In 1999, Popejoy Hall's Director Thomas Tkach and Technical Director Billy Tubb began an initiative to upgrade the theater with modern, high-quality production systems, improve the facility's equipment inventory and, as a result, production quality.
To date, over $1.6 million has been invested in facility improvements and equipment purchases. Over the years, Popejoy Hall has added new lighting equipment (automated and conventional), a 52x20 Soundcraft stage monitor console, Crown amplifiers, and BSS Audio processing. All of this equipment has been used extensively in-house and rented to local production companies, movie productions being shot in the area and to other venues. “The criteria for our purchases are always threefold: reduce outside rental equipment costs for our productions; increase the quality of the shows; and increase facilities rental income,” Tubb said. “I have always felt that we could serve ourselves, our patrons and the local community of production companies by leveraging the same investments.”
For the sound system upgrade, Tubb researched and auditioned different manufacturers and loudspeaker systems for the main PA over a 3-year period. “When the time came to finally improve the house sound system, I knew from my 18 years of management experience at the venue that we should invest in a true, rider-friendly, concert-level system,” Tubb said.
Particular emphasis was placed on flexibility in Tubb's design approach. “I wanted the system to be a left-center-right configuration with distributed front fills, but also have the ability to create a 5.1 surround system in the room,” Tubb said. “I also required the system to be easily set up or broken down depending on what show we had that particular day, meaning it had to be very flexible and not permanently installed.”
The decision to purchase and install JBL VERTEC was made after extensive competitive auditions and listening tests. “I was very impressed with the new V4 DSP presets and the fidelity of the system, but also how well the compact VT4887 worked as a front fill and matched the voicing of the midsize VT4888's,” Tubb said. “I was equally impressed with the DrivePack integration--having used Crown amplifiers for over 25 years and specifying them as a consultant, I knew how reliable they were. I was also impressed to see the capabilities of HiQnetâ„¢ System Architectâ„¢ software for configuration and control of the overall system.”
The reconfigurable system features 24 VERTEC VT4888DPAN powered, midsize powered line array elements, 10 VT4887DPAN powered, compact line array elements, and eight VT4882DPAN powered, midsize arrayable subwoofers, all equipped with JBL DrivePack technology. Two dbx DriveRack 4800TI Loudspeaker Management Systems are in place to control the system's multiple loudspeaker output zones.
The new system at Popejoy Hall includes two identical stage racks that provide power, signal and network distribution and some additional cabling, enabling the full system to be split into two separate packages. This allows Tubb to set up (or rent out) a complete VT4888 system and a VT4887 system at the same time. “When we are not utilizing the system in Popejoy Hall, we are able to provide services to other University departments and rent to local production companies,” Tubb said. “We started receiving phone calls from other JBL VERTEC rental houses in the region even before we had the system out of the packaging. I basically designed the package to tour by specifying dolly boards, covers for all of the speakers, portable cabling and road cases.”
With the replicating power, signal and network distribution racks and cable systems, the system can also be arranged in various configurations in the theater. “We can do a left-center-right arrangement, or just left-right, or fewer boxes as required,” Tubb added. “We can just fly a center cluster or vary the subwoofer deployment. Some days we want maximum subwoofer energy for a contemporary music event, or we can set up the subs in cardioid arrays as well when we want to keep the onstage energy down to accommodate a symphony event.”
Additionally, Tubb required the stage monitors to double as surrounds for the 5.1 system. For this, Tubb added 16 JBL VP71212DP powered loudspeakers, 10 of which include custom fly points. “We were even more pleased when JBL engineers were able to add a pole mount to the box as well,” Tubb noted. “We have pole-mounted the monitors with tripods for corporate settings and we are very happy with the results.”
The state-of-the art sound system comes as a result of the continuing tradition of support for Popejoy Hall that extends back to before the Hall was built, with arts patron Mrs. Rufus Poole making the single largest personal gift to the Hall in its 41-year history. Her gift of $555,000 for the new JBL concert sound system along with acoustical upgrades to the hall in coordination with SIA Acoustics, Inc. continues a legacy of community support for the Hall that began in 1962 when her late husband, Rufus Poole, a prominent Albuquerque attorney, first led a citizens group in support of the Hall's original construction.
At the re-opening of Popejoy Hall after its significant upgrades, Director Thomas Tkach praised Mrs. Poole for again providing leadership in funding Popejoy Hall. “Mrs. Poole's very generous gift continues her family's history with Popejoy Hall and their commitment to making this a place of which all New Mexicans can be proud,” Tkach said. “Her contribution allows us to fulfill another commitment we have made for upgrading our Hall. Now, because of Mrs. Poole's generosity, we are able to modernize our audio equipment and make the Hall's acoustics even better.”